Councilwoman responds after commissioners defend BREC, refuse investigation into agency

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The BREC Commission held a news conference Wednesday afternoon to address complaints about the Baton Rouge Zoo and to say they are fully committed to improving the facility in its current location.

Last month, a proposed move to the State Fairgrounds in south Baton Rouge was voted down and a short time later, the zoo lost its accreditation from the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Councilwoman Chauna Banks has since called for an independent investigation into the zoo's management.

In dramatic fashion Wednesday afternoon BREC commissioners said they would not be moving forward with an investigation as some of them handed over $10 at a time, officially kicking off fundraising efforts for a master plan to renovate the Baton Rouge Zoo.

"There's my 10 dollar bill," said BREC commissioner Mike Walker. "Carolyn McKnight, first 10 dollars, open an account."

The commissioners' message to the public, particularly the swarm of recent critics, is to put up or shut up when it comes to renovating the zoo. "Do something about it," said Mike Walker. "There's only one solution, put up the money. You give us the money and we'll give you a zoo like you've never seen before."

Councilwoman Banks, perhaps the most vocal of those critics, said the display did very little to restore public trust. It's something she believes will hinder fundraising efforts. "It's hard for me to go out and try to get the community behind this in a financial way because it's almost like how is it that I can raise money and say that it will be used appropriately," said Banks.

Commissioners came out swinging at the news conference, saying they want to set the record straight following the flurry of complaints and calls for them to cut ties with staff leadership.

"BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight and Zoo Director Phil Frost have our full support and any statement suggesting otherwise are woefully misguided, uninformed, and lacking in credibility," said BREC commission chairman, Lloyd Benson.

Instead, they believe it's time to move forward with a master plan to renovate the zoo at Greenwood Park. It's something they are calling on the public and private donors to pay for, despite not having an exact price tag. "I'm not quite sure how much the master plans will cost. I would guess that they would be in the hundreds of thousands I would imagine," said McKnight.

Banks though, is adamant an investigation is vital, saying it's the only way many would be comfortable enough to invest in a location she says the superintendent has verbally condemned. "If the zoo doesn't move, it will die, and you just can't erase those words," said Banks.

While commissioners stress an investigation is not needed, Banks is fearful the idea is doomed without one.

"There's no need for an external investigation," said Benson. "We believe that we know what's best for our parks, our system and our zoo."

"We're headed towards I told you so as long as they're in charge," said Banks.

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